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Adds a current Eastern Conference GM: “You don’t get free agents without it. [Tampering] is what the whole league is built on. That’s the only way you can get anything done.” That’s why the executives contacted by B/R were surprised the Pacers demanded an investigation by the league at all. One called it “bush league.” Several others opined that the Pacers must’ve had some hard-proof evidence. Almost all presumed owner Herb Simon was simply too irate about George’s proclamation that he would leave in free agency to let him go quietly.
While there have been previous instances where teams were upset they lost a star player and suspected the recruiting process began well before his contract officially expired, most have swallowed their anger rather than draw added attention to the fact they were spurned or invite similar scrutiny. “You better be careful what you ask for,” says the former GM. “That kind of disclosure becomes a two-way street. You sure you want the league to look at every phone call and email you’ve sent?”
Since the Lakers were hit with a $500,000 fine for tampering with Paul George, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson says, he has given the matter little thought except for one thing: He doesn’t want his close friend and boss, Jeanie Buss, to bear the burden of the fine.
“We can’t say a lot but we will correct the situation,” Johnson said Monday. “It’s under my watch. I apologize to Jeanie, and that was the main thing. I told her she could take it out of my salary because I don’t want the Lakers to be paying that fine. … I don’t want her spending $500,000, because she didn’t do anything. That’s on me.”
The league also said it had previously warned the Lakers after Johnson joked with Jimmy Kimmel on the late-night host’s talk show about what communication he is allowed to have with George if they would see each other in the offseason. “This is just on a late-night show being funny,” Johnson said after touring a donation facility he helped organize with West Angeles Church to benefit victims of Tropical Storm Harvey. “But now I know I can’t do that. We’re OK. I haven’t thought twice about it. We made a mistake. … It’s under my watch. I’m gonna make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.”
The league’s investigation found that Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, had discussions in which George’s name came up and Pelinka offered a “prohibited expression of interest” to Mintz. The finding comes off a little like a state trooper pulling over a single car for speeding when the flow of traffic is all pushing 80, or the NCAA targeting a specific program for a probe while infractions run rampant among all its competitors in the conference in which it plays. That is to say, if there is a rule in place that can’t be universally enforced, those who do get caught for breaking it end up as almost sympathetic characters in a way.
One Western Conference executive reached for comment Thursday night told ESPN that the league was “at least trying to get serious” about tampering, but added that the proper penalty for what the Lakers did should be $1 million or the loss of a second-round pick at the least to serve as a “true deterrent” to keep other teams from doing the same. Another Eastern Conference GM suggested some sort of suspension system be put in place.
Here is what Peter Vecsey, who was the first to report on the issue, said about potential punishments (via Patreon): “If deemed guilty, the Lakers’ franchise could be docked multiple draft picks (Timberwolves lost five first-rounders, got two back, but were shut out of draft in 2001, ’02 & ’04), their hierarchy could be suspended for a year or more (like T’Wolf owner Glen Taylor and GM Kevin McHale and a team lawyer for entering into a fraudulent series of contracts with Joe Smith) and fined millions (it cost Wolves $3.5M). The most severe punishment could be forbidding the Lakers to sign George when he’s free next summer.”
Tania Ganguli: Pacers triggered the Lakers tampering investigation, so I asked for their comment. From GM Pritchard: “We accept the league’s findings.”
Rob Pelinka: “We respect and accept the NBA’s decision regarding this matter. On behalf of the Los Angeles Lakers, I want to express our regret over this unfortunate incident to both our fans and the NBA.”
Sam Amick: This is 2nd largest tampering fine in league history (Minny/Joe Smith saga in 2000 was $3.5 mil & 3 picks). It’s in top 15 fines all time.
Ira Winderman: Lakers fined $500,000 by NBA for tampering issue with Paul George. But ruling does not preclude Los Angeles from eventually signing George.
BTW, Pacers initiated this tampering investigation around the draft. We’re just learning of it now.
Still, it’s necessary, and it’s especially necessary in a league where players are forever angling to align themselves with existing super teams. It’s especially necessary for small- and mid-market teams to hold big-market teams’ feet to the fire in these cases. All over the league, teams like Indiana, Oklahoma City and Salt Lake are losing their star players, creating a very uneven playing field and giving rise to the super team phenomenon. In fact, there’s word that other small- and mid-market team officials have reached out to the Pacers and told them, “Good for you. Fight the good fight.”
“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.” The only difference between what teams usually do and this is that a complaint was filed, and the league must investigate. It’s possible that Magic slipped somewhere with an incriminating text or email. After all, he even went on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and joked about tampering.
Tampering is hard, if not impossible to prove. “If there’s a paper trail, then it’ll be a thing,” said one league executive, adding he doubts there were any distinct emails or texts that implicate Magic. “No paper trail, no problem.”
The Lakers have been under investigation by the NBA for tampering allegations since May because of a conversation Magic Johnson had on a television show about then-Indiana All-Star forward Paul George that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing matter. The interview took place in April. Team officials aren’t allowed to make contact with a player or their representatives until the free-agency period opens on July 1.
The lawyers from the NBA and the outside counsel the Lakers hired to review the matter each deposed owner Jeanie Buss, Johnson, who is the president of basketball operations, and general manager Rob Pelinka in May, according to the officials.
According to several NBA officials, it would be difficult to prove that the Lakers have tampered with George. The officials also said the Lakers could be fined and have draft picks taken away if it is tampering allegations are proven.
The following statement was issued today by Alison Bogli, Director, Media Relations regarding the NBA’s investigation into the teams’ alleged tampering violation: “As the NBA’s statement made clear, we cannot comment about the specifics of any ongoing investigation. We can confirm, however, that we are cooperating fully with the NBA in the hope of clearing our name as soon as possible.”
The possibility of impermissible contact between Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and four-time All-Star Paul George is at the crux of an NBA probe into possible tampering, league sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.
The Indiana Pacers filed tampering charges with the NBA against the Lakers, and the league issued a statement Sunday saying that a probe is underway. The Lakers are denying the allegations filed by the Pacers, insisting that there is no evidence of tampering, and they expect to be cleared in the matter, a team source told ESPN.
If the league office’s probe can prove that the Lakers were guilty of tampering with George while under contract with Indiana, Los Angeles can be punished in several ways, including a loss of draft picks, financial fines up to $5 million or even future restrictions on acquiring George and possible suspensions of offending officials.
“At the request of the Indiana Pacers, the NBA opened an investigation into alleged tampering by the Los Angeles Lakers,” the NBA said in an official released Sunday afternoon. “The independent investigation is being conducted by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The Lakers have been cooperative and, at this point, no findings have been made. We have asked both teams to refrain from commenting while the investigation is ongoing.”
Adrian Wojnarowski: Story with @Ramona Shelburne soon on ESPN. Lakers are adamantly denying charges. Tampering story first reported by Peter Vecsey.
Peter Vecsey: Pacers’ owner, chairman and CEO, Herb Simon, recently filed charges against the Lakers for purportedly tampering with rising free agent Paul George. An independent law firm, hired by the league, is in the midst of a comprehensive investigation regarding the seemingly apparent impropriety, which might last three weeks or longer, according to a source. This info also was corroborated.
Peter Vecsey: NBA investigating Lakers 4 purported tampering w PGeorge. Independent law firm handling interviews of Buss, Magic. patreon.com/petervecsey
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November 19, 2017 | 11:03 pm EST Update
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